After an up and down run for the Ohio State men’s basketball team, the No. 23 Buckeyes are looking to end the regular season on a peak.
OSU (22-8, 11-6) is in the midst of its longest winning streak since Big Ten play began, with three consecutive victories. Its hopes to make that four will have to be earned, with the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers (26-3, 15-2) coming to town to wrap up the regular season campaign Sunday afternoon.
“It’s going to be a great game for us,” senior guard Shannon Scott said Saturday. “I think we’re all going to find out how we control a game against a great team. We’ve played some good teams this year, but Wisconsin right now is playing the best basketball, so we have to find out how we play against them.”
Wisconsin has already clinched the outright regular-season Big Ten championship, its first since 2008.
OSU’s extra incentive for a win Sunday, a bye to the third round of the Big Ten tournament in Chicago, vanished Saturday afternoon when Iowa and Michigan State won to knock the Buckeyes out of the top four in the standings. However, OSU coach Thad Matta said he has never been preoccupied with watching where teams fall within the conference.
“I didn’t even know those guys were playing,” Matta said. “I live in a bubble. I really do. I think it’s like crying over spilled milk, in terms of how things unfold.”
The game could be showcased by the lone matchup this season between the Big Ten’s two representatives on the Wooden Award 15 ballot: Wisconsin senior forward Frank Kaminsky and OSU freshman guard D’Angelo Russell.
Matta had only lavish things to say about Kaminsky, who leads the Badgers with 18.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game to go along with 55.4 percent shooting from the field.
“He’s such a unique player for his size,” Matta said. “I love his game. He can get you a lot of different ways, a lot of different areas on the floor.”
OSU senior center Amir Williams said he knows how much effort he’ll have to put in to attempt to slow down the seven-footer.
“Try to get him out of his rhythm,” Williams said about dealing with Kaminsky. “Make things difficult for him early on, and just see where that takes him.
“Just try to make things difficult for him throughout the whole game, to not give up any easy looks, contest all of his shots and just be physical.”
The game will also act as a ceremony for the six OSU seniors, including four who have spent their entire collegiate careers in Columbus: Sam Thompson, Scott, Trey McDonald and Williams.
Matta said the bond between those four-year teammates is stronger than he’s ever witnessed in his years coaching.
“They’re just a unique blend of guys, that have really come from all walks of life, and have meshed together,” Matta said. “And quite honestly, I’ve seen it over time, those guys are probably four best friends.”
The other two players set to be honored Sunday are redshirt-senior Anthony Lee, who transferred from Temple this season, and senior walk-on Jake Lorbach.
The Buckeyes have not met Wisconsin since Feb. 1, 2014, a 59-58 victory in Madison, Wisc. However, Matta said after a decade of coaching in the Big Ten, he knows what to expect from the year-to-year similarity of Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan’s squads, though this year’s unit stands out.
“I don’t know how many times we’ve played Wisconsin in the time I’ve been here, but it’s just another Wisconsin basketball team that is very, very talented, maybe the best I’ve seen,” Matta said.
Scott echoed his coach’s statements that his experience with the Badgers gives him early insight into Sunday’s affair.
“We’ve been playing against them for four years. We know what they want to do, they know what we want to do. It’s just about us executing our system defensively,” he said.
Scott added that OSU will not be able to take a minute off if it wants to wrap up the regular season with an upset win, and not falter when something doesn’t go its way.
“We need to be great for 40 minutes,” Scott said.
Tip-off against Wisconsin is set for 4:30 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.